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Barthes and the fashion system

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Gabriela Pedranti

on 24 October 2014

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Transcript of Barthes and the fashion system

Roland Barthes proposes a
semiological
analysis of the fashion system
Paris, 1958/59. Magazines: Elle y Jardin des Modes.
He chooses to work with the transformation of an object into language --- DESCRIPTION
Fashion clothing is complex: it deploys a number of 'substances': the material, photography,language...
A Fashion statement implies at least two information systems: a properly linguistic one (language, French for him) and a 'vestimentary code' in which the dress (patterns, accesories, a pleated skirt, a sleeveless top, etc.)
can mean the world
(racing, spring, maturity),
and also Fashion
. These two systems are not separate: the language code seems to take over the vestimentary code.
"It is all about detecting in one simple message -the description of a fashionable dress- the overlaying of a number of systems of meaning: on the one hand, what we might call the
'vestimentary code' which controls a certin number of different usages
, and on the other hand
the rethoric
, that is the way in which the magazine expresses this code and which itself
reflects a certain vision of the world, an ideology
. Semiological analysis allows us to situate the place of ideology within the general system of meanings (...)
"Contrary to the myth of improvisation, of caprice, of fantasy, of free creativity, we can see that fashion is strongly coded. It is ruled by combination in which there is a finite reserve of elements and certain rules of change. The whole set of fashion features for each year is found in the collection of features which has its own rules and limits, like grammar (...) If fashion appears to us to be unpredictable this is because we are using only a small human memory. As soon as we widen it to its historial dimension we find a very marked regularity. "

For Barthes, there are 2 fashions: "On the one hand, fashion tries hard to make the written item of clothing correspond to uses, characters, seasons, functions: 'A dress for evening wear, for shopping, for spring, for the student, for the carefree young girl...'. Here the arbitrary nature of fashion is sidestepped, hidden beneath this rationalized, naturalist lexicon.
Fashion is lying
. It is hiding behind social and psychological alibis.
On the other hand there is another vision of fashion which rejects this system of equivalences and sets up a truly abstract and poetic function. This is a fashion of idleness, of luxury, but which has the merit of declaring itself as pure form (...) It is an emptiness which is not absurd, a nothingness which is constructed as a meaning."
He "limits" his analysis to written fashion (or better, "described fashion". His object of analysis is not just a simple nomenclature, but a real code, even if it is just "said/written". His work is about the "translation" from one system into the other (fashion clothing and language).
Full transcript